How is your dress/tunic coming along? Are you happy with it so far? I can’t wait to see all of them at our event.

1. I want to address the subject of “grading” a seam. When a seam is enclosed by a facing, collar, or cuff (just to name a few instances), it will lay flatter if the seam allowances are graded. Of course, all your seams deserve an “A+”, but that is not the kind of grading I am talking about.

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In the lines above, the dashed line indicates the seam line. The red line is one seam allowance and the green line is the other seam allowance. The narrowest seam allowance should be about 1⁄4”, with the others progressively wider, but still less than the original 5⁄8”.

The difficult part comes in trying to decide which seam allowance needs to be the smallest. If you look at your garment from the outside (as others would see it while you are wearing it), that is called the “public” side. In terms of grading, the widest seam allowance should be the one that is nearest the “public” side of the garment, and all other seam allowances will be progressively narrower. Sometimes, such as when sewing a collar, you may have as many as 4 seam allowances to grade. In the illustration below, let’s pretend that this is a side view of the seam allowance. The garment (“public” side) is on the left in black and the facing is on the right in blue in both illustrations. The seam allowances are red and green.

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When graded correctly, the seams lay flat and look very neat. When graded incorrectly, a ridge can form that has neither a flat nor a neat appearance.

2. Let’s also look at the proper way to clip a seam. After the seams are graded, if the seam is not a straight seam, it will most likely need to be clipped in order to lay flat when pressed. Clip almost to, but NOT through the stitching line. The clips should be about 1/4” to 1/2” apart, depending on how deep the curve is. Be consistent. For best results, clip one layer at one angle and the next layer at the opposite angle. Place clips so that the clips on one layer are between the clips on the other layer. Look at the illustration below. The dashed line represents the stitching line, and the red and green lines are the graded seam allowances.

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3. Use these techniques in constructing your collar. Be sure to pay careful attention to matching the notches when applying the collar to the dress. One other note about the collar is to test different weights of interfacing, depending on your fabric selection. The collar needs to stand without being stiff. However, too lightweight an interfacing may allow it to droop. Like Goldilocks says, it should be “just right”. Follow the pattern instructions carefully.

4. If you are not adding a collar, then follow the directions for adding bias tape. There is some excellent information about working with bias tape at Sewing.org section 6.186. And don’t be afraid to make your own bias. There are a lot of really good tools available that make the job fast and easy. My favorite is the Simplicity bias machine. If you don’t want to invest in that (wait for a sale or coupon at JoAnn’s!), the bias tape makers from Dritz work very well. The following tutorial is from the Dritz website.

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5. Sleeves can be frustrating for the best of us. Perhaps I can share a couple of different techniques that will make the job a little easier.

a. The pattern directions recommend a common method using an “easestitch”. If you read the definitions on the pattern guide, it says to stitch along the seamline using long machine stitches. Perhaps that could use a little bit of clarification. The stitch length should be about 8 stitches to the inch, but that will depend on the weight of the fabric. You might need 10 stitches per inch for really lightweight fabric, or 6 stitches per inch for really heavy fabric.

I would not recommend stitching “on the seamline” when applying the ease stitching. First, the stitching should be placed between the single notch on the front side of the sleeve and the double notches on the back side of the sleeve. Leave the ends loose with no backstitching. Stitch a row at about 1/8” inside the stitching line. Then stitch a second row about 1/8” from the first row. Both rows are within the seam allowance. Place the sleeve in the armhole that has been carefully staystitched, paying careful attention to line up the seam lines and notches, and any other markings that may be provided. At this point, you should have pins only at the following points: the underarm seam (bottom), the shoulder seam (top), and single and double notches on each side.

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Now you can gently pull on the loose ends of the easestitching to adjust the fit of the sleeve. Use only the threads that are on the wrong side of the fabric, and pull from each end, adjusting one side at a time. It sometimes helps to have the garment on the inside and the sleeve on the outside so that you can roll the seam allowance around your finger as you pin the sleeve in place before sewing it in. Place pins perpendicular to the seam. Be careful to stitch inside the ease stitching so that it doesn’t show when the seam is finished.

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b. A different, but equally effective way to apply a sleeve starts without sewing the sleeve seams or the side seams of the garment. Begin by pinning the sleeve to the garment at the notches and shoulder seam line. With the garment on the bottom and the sleeve on top, begin pinning while easing the fabric that is rolled around your finger.

Once all the ease has been worked in, stitch the seam, starting at about 2” from the underarm seam line and ending about 2” from the underarm seam line on the other side.

Now, stitch the underarm seams and the garment side seams. Go back to the sleeve seam and finish stitching the circle.

c. One other tip…place the layer of fabric that has the ease (in this case the sleeve) next to the feed dog as you stitch. The feed dog will help to absorb some of the ease, and make your job easier.
d. There is an excellent tutorial on YouTube that addresses both of these methods. You can watch it here:

Next week is our last visit together. We will talk about various finishing techniques, as well as some ideas for embellishments. You are almost finished, and I hope you are having fun as you sew!

Use this contact form to ask Louise and Maggie questions about the Sew Along. Your Sew Along work-in-progress pictures can be sent to sewalong@planoasgsews.org or uploaded to our Facebook page.

Happy Sewing!

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